There are two things they always say never to work with: animals and children.
There are exceptions, obviously. For six days at The National Theatre, Annie and Sandy — the bright red-headed, curly-topped little orphan and her scruffy yellow dog – are back for a limited run in a loving reincarnation of the iconic musical by Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse, and Martin Charnin.
This non-union tour, directed by the original director and lyricist, Martin Charnin, is the first US tour of the show since the poorly-received 2012 2nd Broadway revival. Charnin has promised a new incarnation in this version, which harkens back to the original 1977 production. Annie has played National before, and probably looked very much the same– the first national tour had an 18-week run here in 1978.
Having never seen the show before, I’m not sure what makes this version “new” – but Charnin absolutely doesn’t disappoint. The audience is greeted at the top by announcements made in character from Annie and Miss Hannigan, before the overture starts, and practically everything about it is stellar, from the solid ensemble cast (all of whom play multiple featured roles: staff in the Warbucks’ household; the cast of a 1930s radio play; victims of the Depression living in a shantytown) to the spectacular choreography by Liza Gennaro (the daughter of original choreographer Peter Gennaro). The production also features absolutely magnificent sets by Tony Award-winning scene designer Beowulf Boritt, who has included, in addition to a horrifically dilapidated orphanage, backdrops with phenomenal views of Depression-era Manhattan hung so deep that it literally seems endless – it’s impossible to tell where the back of the stage was.
And there are, of course, the live animals and children. All seven of the young actresses playing Miss Hannigan’s long-suffering orphans, between the ages of nine and eleven, are making their national tour debuts in this production, and each one of them shines. Eleven-year-old Heidi Gray, making her debut as Annie, seemed at times to be over-annunciating some of her lines in a way that felt forced and a little too over-excited (perhaps this was a directorial choice), but she’s a lovely singer, and carries with her a confidence and exuberance that is, regardless, a joy to watch. The girls all act wonderfully together, but nine-year old Annabelle Wachtel, who plays Molly, the littlest orphan, is an adorable, vibrant, and noteworthy standout.
Annie’s dog Sandy is played in alternating performances by one of two dogs, Sunny and Macy, both rescues who were adopted and trained by original Annie animal trainer William Berloni. Sunny is the original Sandy from the 2012 Broadway revival; Macy has been touring since 2010.
Of the adult leads, Miss Hannigan (Lynn Andrews), Oliver Warbucks (Gilgamesh Taggett), and Grace Farrell (Chloe Tiso) are brilliantly cast. Andrews is a spectacularly funny character actress with an equally powerful voice, and Mr. Taggett is a marvelous, almost operatic-sounding tenor. Other standout performances also come from Ruby Day, who plays Star-to-Be, the awestruck woman just off the bus during “N.Y.C”, and Jeffrey B. Duncan, playing Franklin Roosevelt, is reminiscent of John Lithgow.
It really is a shame this run is so short. I, like many I’m sure, grew up with the music and saw the films, but had never actually seen the show. You only have until the end of this weekend to catch it, and you should – it’s a joyous production that will delight audiences of all ages.
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission.